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Returning Tides

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Delia was standing in the kitchen, pouring boiling water from the kettle into two of Patsys polka dot mugs when Patsy came back downstairs. She’d tidied up Patsy noted guiltily, there was a stack of washing up waiting to be put away and the television had been switched off. The light from outside stained the downstairs a cold blue.

Patsys feet disturbed the quiet lightly in the relative peace as she strained to listen out for the tell tale creak of Seppies bedroom door. When she reached the bottom step Delia turned to face her, a mug of steaming tea in each hand, a determined set to her mouth.

"I thought we might be able to have that talk now." Delia said deliberately, placing the cups down neatly, side by side on the dining room table, her voice higher than usual with nerves, 'I- Pats we really need to talk about a few things... This summer-"

Patsy was only half listening, a tiny sound had echoed down the upstairs landing and she felt a rush of triumph. Occasionally, it was nice to know that she could still read people. Especially when the people in question happened to be her people... Admittedly though Seppie tended to be a book with very large print.

A floor board creaked above her head and Patsy quickly calculated how long it would take for Seppie to appear.

Delia coughed to bring Patsy back to the moment. She was still waiting at the table, looking expectant, keyed up by something Patsy couldn't identify. Patsy realised too late that she’d zoned out on a part of the conversation and hastened to focus on what she’d missed.

Something about Wales?

Patsy gave a quick nod to show that she’d heard but beckoned Delia over, aware of another creak. 

"There's a lot we need to talk about and I promise that we will, but right now...’ Patsy cocked her head towards the door meaningfully. ‘Do you mind if we wait another few minutes? It'll be worth it."

Delia sagged, her hand rubbing despondently at her hip as she stared down at the mugs.

"I really don't think that I can put this off any more Pats." Her hand traced a knot on the wooden surface of the table, the thumb rigid making the wood squeak.

Patsy thought that she looked adorable but couldn't blame the nerves. She felt them too; something large was yawning out in front of them. Not unexpected but necessary; Patsy had never been comfortable with heart felt conversation before now, always more for dealing with problems on her own, but the prospect didn't frighten her this time. She was too certain of the future to be afraid.

Above them the door to the stairs whined, a low pitched groan that Seppie wouldn't register. Patsy made a mental note not to ever oil the hinges; she had a feeling she'd need all the extra helping hands she could find when her daughter hit her teens. Grinning now, Patsy strode over to Delia and eased her hand from the table top to tug her backwards towards the living room determinably.

"Pats,' Delia sounded surprised, exasperated by yet another delay but she followed Patsy even so.

"Shh,’ Patsy whispered excitedly. ‘I've got a theory that I just want to see out, it wont take more than five minutes, don't worry, then it'll all be over."

"Yes,' Delia sighed as she folded herself down onto the sofa looking anxious, 'that's what I'm worried about."

Patsy smiled, slipping her arm casually over Delias shoulder like she’d done it a hundred times before, spying over Delias shoulder to squint at the open door. Seppie probably would have gone down on her bum, less chance of being heard that way. Delia was watching Patsy in
some concern and Pasty threw her a sly wink.

"Want to see a con artist in the making?" She offered wryly.

Delia gave the door another look and then nodded uncertainly, trusting Patsy not to be wrong.

Patsy ran her finger along Delias shoulder. “Close your eyes and pretend to be asleep.” She advised in an undertone that wasn’t strictly necessary.

Delia raised her eyebrows. "Are you being serious?"

"As a heart attack."

They managed it just in time.

From his basket Patsy heard Neil sit up, his collar jangling as someone doing a good impression of Darth Vadar after the volcano appeared at the doorway. Quietly, very quietly and slowly, a pair of hands disturbed the air. The fabric of Neils basket rustled as a tail wagged hard against the wall.

"Please tell me she’s not doing what I think shes doing?" Delia breathed carefully, laughter in her voice.

Patsy squeezed her eyes closed a little harder, fighting back the urge to leap up and yell gotcha.

They both waited, their eyes closed as six feet scratched on the floor and then, with a few thumps, padded up the stairs.

The not so perfect crime committed.

Neither Patsy or Delia moved until the door upstairs had closed a little more loudly as Seppie forgot to be stealthy. When she was certain they were safe Patsy snorted and opened her eyes; Delias face was very close.

Patsy thought that she was beautiful, couldn’t stop the wistful hoping from leaping out at her. She loved this woman and it was the best kind of weird she’d ever experienced.

"Deels?’ Patsy stroked Delias hand, the skin feeling warm. ‘You can open your eyes now sweetheart. She’s gone."

"I thought you said no animals upstairs." Delia said, peeking through her lashes.

"I did."

Delia reached out to hold onto Patsys shirt in a bid to sit a little straighter. ‘And yet,’ Delia said archly, ‘the dog is now upstairs Pats."

"Well,’ Patsy shrugged easily, refusing to remove her arm from Delias shoulders, ‘its still her birthday for a few more hours and between us; I secretly approve of a little bit of rebellion.’ Patsy smirked, cocky until she registered Delias hand and the way they were slowly moving up to rest on her face. ‘It's good for her."

"You're such a push over. Neils going to be up there every night from now on".

"No he won’t, I'm good at chess.’ Patsy gave Delia a lazy grin. ‘You’re forgetting that I know almost every trick they might try."

Delias thumb rubbed Patsys chin, the touch so gentle that Patsy wanted to close her eyes again, the sensation far too intimate.

"Pats, what am I supposed to do with you?" It wasn’t a question that Delia seemed to need an answer for but Patsy still had a go.

Leaning forward Patsys kissed the pad of Delias thumb. The rough edge of a chewed nail grazing her lip.

"I've got one or two ideas if you're game."

"Pats...’ Delias eyes were very dark but there was something wrong, something wrong with her expression. Patsy couldn’t understand it. ‘When I was in Wales something happened... I need to tell you." Delias voice was feeble. Their faces too close, Patsy could feel the warmth off her breath on her cheek. The smell of her perfume.

“What’s your favourite dinosaur Delia?”

“My- What?” Delias eyes were unfocused as they fell over Patsys mouth.

“Dinosaurs?’ Patsys cheeks twitched as Patsy decided to up the ante, running her hand along Delias thigh, knee to hip. ‘Prehistoric animals, scaley buggers. Fossils.”

Delias breathing hitched as she tried to scrabble around for an answer.

“Umm, I always liked diplodocus when I was little.”

“Diplodocus?” Patsys nose rubbed against the point of Delias. Her hand fit so well on Delias hip. So well.

Something was pounding in her ears. Sounded like drums. The itching thrum of electricity was back.

“I think so.” Delia quavered, her hand resting on Patsys back, the fabric bunching up against the limb.

“Well,’ Patsy couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop, ‘we’re a match. Seppie will be pleased.”

“Pats-“ Delia sounded wound up. Asking for something.

Patsy answered.

Delias lips were right there and Patsy decided ten weeks was about long enough for the moment.

The kiss wasn’t huge. It didn’t have any specific end point; it was simply kissing for the sake of kissing. An easy brand of kissing that meant there would be more, the simple easiness of two people who didn’t intent to stop.

Patsy didn’t want to stop kissing this woman.

Delias hands were pulling her closer; one buried in Patsys hair, the other pushing its way under her t-shirt to greedily trace the rounding path of her spine and Patsy swore she could hear the universe cheering.

Patsys fingers found the soft skin of Delias hips, felt the thin line that was the waistband of her trousers.

And then the moment was gone, snatched away because Delia was pushing her back, gasping for air.

"Wait!’ Delia said desperately. ‘Pats please wait. I need to tell you something."

Patsy couldn’t catch her breath. She stared non plussed as her heart rate slowed back down.

"What?’ Patsy felt punch drunk, her mouth tingling as she watched the rise and fall of Delias chest. ‘What is it? What’s wrong?"

"Caroline!’ Delia practically shouted the word. ‘Pats that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.... When I was in Wales I- something happened with Caroline." Delia looked mortified as she watched Patsy laboriously trying to make the connections. 

It didn’t take too long. Patsy froze.

"With-With Caroline?' Patsy repeated blankly, her back was suddenly too cold where her t-shirt had been pulled up. 'Something... You did something with Caroline?”

Please be friendly bike rides. Please be friendly bike rides.

"Only once,' Delia looked relieved that Patsy had grasped the concept so readily. 'It was at Bernys wedding; it shouldn't have happened but I thought... I had to tell you before anything else happened."

"You... You and Caroline?” Patsy spoke the words very slowly, unable to make it real inside her head, not really believing they meant anything important. The words didn't add up to reality.

Something thumped upstairs. Neil. Jumping from Seppies bed. Surreal.

This couldn't be happening. Please don’t let this be happening.

"It was a one time thing I swear.’ Delia spoke in a rush, anxiety speeding her along the story like she could force it to be less awful that way, her bent knee bumping into Patsys leg. ‘It happened weeks ago... I just needed to tell you.’ Delia licked her lips. ‘You said you wanted to take things slowly and I want that too Pats... but I couldn't take it further if I wasn't up front from the beginning. At least now we can make a clean start; you and me...’ Delia stared at Patsys still unmoving face fretfully. ‘Pats? Please say something."

Patsy couldn’t seem to pick apart what was happening. She felt detached, like she was watching someone else’s world fall apart.

"You slept with Caroline...’ Patsy tried the phrase out in the real world, her tongue clumsy as something fragile seemed to curl up inside her chest. One burning question seeped out of the rapidly growing pile. The important one. ‘Why?"

"It was stupid,’ Delias hand wrapped around Patsys wrist and held it tightly, anchoring them physically as the emotions dragged them further and further apart. ‘I made a stupid mistake that’s all. Does it really matter why?”

"It matters to me." Patsy could barely say it, her jaw felt too tight.

This mattered. This mattered to her. Delia mattered. Fuck-

"Barbara called me.’ Delia swallowed hard, her face pallid in the dull light of the lamps. ‘At the wedding... Bernie’s wedding. She said... She said that Tom and Trixie had a fight before she left for good.” Delia stopped, her fingers clinging to Patsy tightly.

Delias hands were so warm; like a house with all the lights on in winter when you hope it can be your home.

Patsy felt cold. A great fallout of air seemed to be billowing away from her; the roar of the losses was deafening. The shining moments of the evening were crashing to nothing behind her eyes. All gone-

“Trixie told Tom that she was sleeping with you, she told Tom that you'd told her to move in.’ Delia swallowed again, her hand shaking as she chewed the words out. ‘Make things official. Barbara said she thought it was the real deal, Tom thinks you've been having an affair for years apparently.' Delia glanced up here, searching for answers she didn't want to ask out loud.

Patsy said nothing, her eyes unfocused as she stared at a point just to the right of Delias head.

Trixie was going to pay for this.

She felt too numb to respond so Delia went on hurriedly, trying to fill two peoples halves of the conversations content by herself. 'I... I believed her- For one day, that's it. I got drunk and then Caroline showed up and it was so stupid Pats...’ Delia shook her head. Embarrassed or ashamed; Patsy wasn’t in a position to know. ‘She's been having a rough time with her boyfriend and we ended up drinking the bar dry. We were so drunk.’

Delia screwed up her face, ‘I never do that. I’ve never done a one night stand like that, I was just so angry... But it didn't mean anything Pats, I swear. For either of us. We both regretted it in the morning. I still regret it.” She added firmly, her hands groping higher, her thumbs mapping out Patsys elbow feverishly.

Patsys brain was so sluggish, she couldn’t seem to take a hold of events. Couldn’t process the whole thing; her mind focusing on the big parts of the picture and the lone, agonising realisation.

"Wow...’ Patsy breathed. ‘You really did sleep with Caroline." The reality was setting in a bit now. Patsy felt a wave of nausea, her face still paralysed into shocked stillness for the moment. The slow shifting of tectonic plates playing out along her skin.

"Patsy I'm really sorry.' Delia groaned, she looked like she wanted to cry but strangely the sight didn't stir Patsy.

It was like watching someone act out a scene from behind thick glass, the emotions couldn't bridge the gap. Patsy felt a rising swell of something painful in her chest. It was like being stabbed again and, somehow, Delia was still talking. A soft wash of words that Patsy couldn’t seem to grasp.

“I was an idiot. I thought about calling you that night to have it out with you; I nearly did but the signal was crap and I was already pretty pissed.’ Delia took in a shaky breath. Her fringe was sticking to her forehead, the hair stiff with sweat. ‘I called Phyllis the next day to ask if she'd heard anything, I thought- I thought if I could get some sort of external information then I’d know what to do... and she told me that Trixie really had moved in but just as a friend.’ Delias face creased up miserably. ‘I realised that I'd fucked up but I didn’t want to just call you and say-‘ She broke off and started again. ‘I decided to wait until I got back; I didn't want to do this over the phone."

Patsy just stared at her, cogs stuttering into life as she tried to wrestle with the truth. A glaring reality struck out and hit her squarely in the heart.

"You brought her back with you." Patsy noted icily, a voice of deadly calm that threatened an avalanche with one wrong move finally cutting through Delias monologue.

"She's been going through a break up,’ Delia answered quickly, ‘someone saw me leaving her flat the next morning. They told her boyfriend and it all went to shit, she needed to get out of town. I said she could stay at mine until she worked out what to do next."

"So...’ Patsy said ponderously, pulling her eyebrows together with difficulty, her face felt foreign and not under her control, trying to knit the facts out. She couldn’t look at Delia. ‘You're in a relationship with her?"

"God no.’ Delia looked appalled. Her hands gripping tighter and Patsy wished that she wouldn’t. She wanted a moment to think. ‘Pats, please look at me, its nothing like that I swear. We're just friends."

"But she's staying at your house." Patsy pointed out coolly.

"She’s in the spare room." Delia gave a nervous sort of chuckle, her face slightly green now.

"I WAS IN THE FUCKING SPARE ROOM!" Patsys control cracked, gone in an explosion of sound as the anger merged with the hurt and she was suddenly on her feet; ripping Delia away from her.

Delia flinched at the abrupt move and put her face in her hands. 

"I know,’ Delia moaned, ‘Pats, I know what it looks like okay. That’s why I had to tell you before we went any further; I'm sorry Pats. I fucked up... I thought if I told you then we could- I don't know, I hope we can move forward. You said you would wait."

"You thought I’d just ignore the fact that you fucked someone else while I was waiting for you to come home?" Patsy snarled the words. She wanted to seize the closest tangible object and break it, throw it all away until it wasn’t close enough to hurt.

“You slept with Jessie,’ Delia defended stallingly, her voice high, ‘and I didn’t blame you like this.”

“So what’s this then?’ Patsy wanted to rip her hair out in frustration, an animal need to move had begun in her spine and she began to pace back and forth in a tight, angry rut. ‘Payback.”

“No of course it isn’t!’ Delia got to her feet too, her arms outstretched in frustration. ‘I’m just saying that it didn’t change the way I felt about you. The way I still feel about you.”

“So I shouldn’t be upset that you’ve fucked someone else?’ Patsy stopped walking long enough to smack her hand on the CD rack; it rattled ominously, ‘because I had a one night stand with a stranger before we even met! The two things aren’t the same. This woman’s actually living with you.”

“It’s not the way you’re thinking about it!’ Delia was shouting too now, the two of them arguing across the room. ‘I don’t think about her in the same way that I think about you. It was a one time thing and she’s not you Pats. She’s not even close to what you mean to me. I knew that as soon as it was over.”

“No,’ Patsy couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t listen, the walls seemed to be closing in on her. Abraham’s face leered up inside her head and she felt sick. ‘Must have been appealing, someone from home, no baggage, no fucked up backstory. No wonder you picked her.”

“This isn’t about baggage.’ Delia began to cry, hot tears of frustration welling up and trickling down her face as she stamped her foot on the floor. ‘I knew you’d think that. Patsy, I don’t care about your baggage; it doesn’t matter to me.”

“You cared enough to sleep with someone else!” Patsy went on forcefully, relishing the solid truth of it. Trying to force away the pain and wrap it into stubborn anger like a grubby cloak.

The two of them stared at each other; the silence very loud as they both forced in a breath.

“I’m not sleeping with her now.” Delia said eventually. Her voice more level as she tried to make herself calm. It didn’t work.

“How am I supposed to believe that?” Patsy was better at feigning indifference, had had far more practice but somehow that didn’t matter right now. She felt like she was bleeding somehow, like Delia had taken a chunk of her.

“You’ll have to trust me won’t you,’ Delia said tartly, ‘in the same way that I have to trust that you’re sharing a bed with Trixie and not sleeping with her.”

“I-‘ Patsy floundered, stuck for a moment as the the blood pounding in her ears made it hard to think past the flash of guilt tripping her up. ‘How did you know that?”

“I didn’t.’ Delias face was white as she wiped her nose dejectedly. ‘Not until right now... There’s no blankets down here.’ Delia gave a self deprecating chuckle. ‘I had a feeling.”

“I’m not sleeping with her.”

“I believe you.”

“I’m not.” Patsy had to say it again. She had to keep saying it because a tiny part of her head shivered with guilt she didn’t want to accept.

“I just said that I believe you.” Delias said simply.

“I promised you I would wait. I always keep my promises.” Patsy was insistent. She did. Patsy Mount never gave up on a promise. Everyone knew that didn’t they?

“Doesn’t mean I’m not jealous though.’ Delia muttered archly. ‘Doesn’t mean I don’t want to throttle you for it.”

“You could have stayed if you wanted to.” There, Patsy found the way out and groped hold of the fact.

This wasn’t on her.

Delia grit her teeth, her fingers tapping at her hip. “I know that.”

“You don’t have anything to be jealous about.” Patsy felt too big, she wanted to escape. The overwhelming shape of her skin was wrong.

She didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want to fight and she didn’t want to stop shouting either.

“I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that point Patience.” Delia folded her arms stiffly.

Patsy went back to pacing, needing to move. Delia watched her carefully, the pale light from the lamps bleeding into the shadows.

“So this Caroline’s waiting for you at home right now?” Patsy struck out as another thought hit. She couldn’t make her brain work, she didn’t know how to not think in straight lines at the moment.

“Pats-“ Delia began.

Patsy had had enough, she stopped in front of Delia, her mouth too full of words. “You shouldn’t keep her waiting, she’ll worry. You should probably go.”

“I don’t want to leave it like this.” Delia looked wretched, her eyes scanning their way to the door.

“Neither did I.”

“Pats...’ Delias voice shook, desperate to be heard. ‘I really care about you.”

Care. The word stung.

There it was, right there, staring Patsy straight in the face. It had been there the whole time. Care. Only care. Not love. Never love. It was never love when it was about Patsy was it?

Good to fuck. Good to rely on when you needed something or wanted someone to do the hard stuff but not love. Not love.

Stupid. God she was so fucking stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And it wasn’t even like Patsy could blame Delia because why the hell would anyone love something like Patsy?

Fuck. Love?

Why though? Patsy wanted to shake herself, shake the bad things away. What was wrong with her? Why wasn’t she enough?

Why wasn’t she ever, ever, ever enough for someone? Why!

“You should go.’ Patsy barely recognised her own voice, the sound of it in the ringing silence startled her. Didn’t sound like her voice, sounded too quiet. Empty. ‘I’ve probably taken up too much of your time this evening already. You’ve got someone to get back to after all.”

“No.’ Delias lip wobbled as though she wanted to cry again but it felt a long way away. Patsy couldn’t feel it. ‘No Patsy that’s not true. I had a lovely time tonight. It was-“

“You should go home.” Patsy repeated dully. She wanted to shut the moment down, end it, just to stop the stabbing pain in her head. She was born to do this; push the thing that was hurting her away. She’d done it her whole life. She could do it now surely.

No matter who or what the situation was, the survival instinct inside Patsy always guided her. She always made sure that there was a Patsy sized space where she could put herself, a way of retreating from the pain. She had always been able to walk away from anyone, she never let herself get so attached that she couldn’t stop ties from being forged.

Patsy had always been alone. She was good at alone.

Delia stepped towards her, she was reaching to take Patsys hand.

Patsy pulled them away, shoving both of them in her back pockets childishly, trying desperately not to fall apart or show an ounce of feeling.

Before Delia had come along this was the sort of thing she’d shrug off. Who cared about a woman? Who cared if the girl she was screwing wanted something else? There would always be someone else. Someone better or different.

But even as she thought this something hard and cold seemed to lodge itself inside Patsys throat because... Deep down, Patsy already knew that she’d never find someone like Delia again. She wouldn’t fall for someone in this way again. She wouldn’t allow it to happen twice. Wouldn’t bare this kind of loss willingly.

“Patsy... I’m really, really sorry... I’ve messed everything up haven’t I?” Delias voice was half way between panic and grief. She didn’t seem so worried about showing her feelings; tears still leaked out the corners of her eyes and dripped down her face.

Patsy found that she couldn’t blink, her body was frozen. Thin ice.

“You should go home.” Patsy repeated for the third time. She didn’t know what else to say. Delia closed her eyes and bent forward like the words were a blow.

Patsy couldn’t do or say anything differently; she didn’t believe that Delia could ever understand how hard it was to stay so still right now.

“I never wanted to hurt you... I thought telling you was the best thing... I didn’t want to start something serious with a lie.” Delia said it bleakly, maybe she expected Patsy to listen, to understand.

And maybe Patsy would understand that when she was thinking properly but that wasn’t now. Right now Patsy needed Delia to go before she lost it.

Patsy screwed up her face, the need to shout and demand answers were barely suppressed... But the tearing need to fix this was there too, simmering away in the background. It was like being ripped in half. She wanted to take the distance away, she wanted to put her arms around Delia and tell her it didn’t matter.

And did it really matter?

Patsy had been Vals side project for almost a year and it hadn’t quite killed her.

Perhaps... Perhaps she could do it again for Delia.

No.

Something snapped shut tightly in Patsys head. One word screaming in her ears. No. No. No. She might not be worth loving but she was worth more than a side lined thought. All she wanted was to be more than that. Somewhere in the festering depths of her soul Patsy wanted to believe that there was someone that could love her without reservations.

Besides, the idea of sleeping with Delia only to watch her leave afterwards and go home to some faceless stranger was impossible.

It had hurt with Val. It might kill her with Delia.

Patsy took a step backwards needing the physical barrier. Needing the space to force herself into breaking off all of these feelings.

“I’m sorry Delia; I’ve been stupid.’ Patsy felt uncoordinated, dancing faulty steps. ‘I shouldn’t have- Thank you for coming here tonight. It meant a lot to me.”

“I wanted to be here.” Delia insisted feebly.

“It’s late though.’ Patsy rubbed her knuckles hard against her elbows, focusing on the sting. This evening had been too much of a dream, she needed to wake herself up. ‘We’ve both got work tomorrow; I really don’t want to take up any more of your time.”

“You’re not taking up my time!’ Delia stamped her foot again in frustrated exasperation. ‘Patsy, for God’s sake, it’s not what you’re thinking, I swear to God it’s not anything like that.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking.” Patsy said flatly as she turned to walk through the kitchen to the hallway and the front door. Her legs felt like jelly; adrenaline cashing it’s cheap cheques.

She’d make sure Delia got into a taxi, she’d make sure she was safely away and then she’d work out what to do next.

Crying seemed a plausible option. Anger could come into it too if it liked. Hell, self pity could turn up with booze and the feelings could all make a right old evening of it.

She couldn’t make these sort of decisions with Delia still here though. Delia just confused everything; made it hard to do what she always did. Patsy wanted Delia too much and it would make her hope if Delia stayed. Make her soften.

Patsy shouldn’t have bothered to hope for anything in the first place.

Stupid.

Delia didn’t follow her immediately. Patsy could hear her dragging her feet, fumbling in the kitchen with her coat and her bag. Killing time in the hope that Patsy would change her mind. Keys rattled on the tiles as though Delia couldn’t quite get a hold of them.

Like her hands were shaking.

Patsy ignored it all and opened the front door, facing the breeze, her hands clenched at her sides. So much of her wanted to lie; wanted to shut the door again and go back into the kitchen. To Delia. The urge to block out the night was crippling. To ignore the truth of everything.

She wanted to say; it doesn’t matter. She wanted it to be different. Patsy wished desperately that she was different.

Enough.

But she couldn’t be enough could she?

What are the wages of sin? What were her wages?

So Patsy didn’t do anything, she just stood in the doorway and forced herself to be still. To not move or say or do because it wouldn’t help and she needed to be in control.

Eventually Delia did come to the door when she’d run out of things to stall with, her face still pale, her coat and bag hanging forlornly over her crooked elbow. The bunched fabric swinging dangerously close to the floor as Delia walked. Close enough to be felt. Patsy sucked in a breath, her chest hurt and she wanted so badly to touch Delia, the dilemma was excruciating.

Stupid things. All of those stupid things she’d wanted were so pointless. Patsy should have known this would happen.

Patsy shouldn’t have touched this woman in the first place. They had never been realistic. She could see it now; glaring clarity showing through the pain. People like Delia didn’t fall in love with people like Patsy. Them together wasn’t what a fairy tale ending looked like at all.

Patsy willed herself not to speak when Delia stopped in front of her. She didn’t think she could say anything sensible; didn’t think she could pull off calm right now.

Patsy assumed that Delia would just leave straight away but she didn’t. Delia stayed standing in front of her, a taunting shadow, until Patsy gave in and looked at her. Her chin was set and her eyes were still too big for her face.

Those eyes.

Patsy willed herself to walk away but that noble intention folded like a house of cards when Delia stepped over impatiently to wrap her fist around the hem of Patsys t-shirt, forcing her attention. Refusing to go. Patsy could feel the shape of her knuckle brush the skin of her stomach and swallowed.

The tiny sensation was stronger than a brand and it was confusing.

Patsy looked down into Delias face; she looked as upset as Patsy felt which helped a little bit.

Patsy watched silently as she waited for goodbyes. Delia had come here to say goodbye. To tell Patsy it wasn’t going to happen. Patsy was letting her go, she was doing exactly what Delia clearly wanted her to do. She wasn’t making a scene, she wasn’t shouting or raging. Patsy was behaving pretty well in her own estimation.

So why wasn’t Delia just saying it? What did she want? Blood?

Delia seemed to be waiting for something and Patsy didn’t know what it was. Did she have to do a speech about Delia finding the right person? Was Patsy meant to pretend to be happy right now?

All of a sudden Patsy felt utterly exhausted, the weight of the feelings bubbling up unexpectedly were so immense that her knees sagged a little where she stood, her head tilted forward and she wanted to cry.

She’d really thought that just this once she could be enough for somebody.

Delias mouth thinned and she reached up to run her spare hands fingers along Patsys neck. Patsys skin must have been cold because Delias touch felt like burning. Patsy stiffened and Delia sighed.

“I’ve left your scarf on the table.” Delia said in a see saw voice that wavered up and down.

“You can keep it.’ Patsy looked up at the ceiling, couldn’t look Delia in the eye, her mouth numb. ‘I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Delia sounded surprised at this and Patsy blinked, glaring at a mysterious stain in the far left corner of the fading artex ceiling design.

“Just because I’m pissed,’ Patsy spoke deliberately slowly, controlling the words, ‘doesn’t mean that I want you to get sick. Just take the bloody scarf Delia. Okay, unless you think your new friend is going to ask questions.”

“She really is just a friend.” Delia tried again, her body edging closer tentatively as though she thought Patsy might throw her off if she moved too quickly.

Patsy didn’t do anything, she stood with her back against the wall and her eyes closed as she felt the heat of Delias body pressing through the thin fabric of her t-shirt, her hand fixed at Patsys neck like it belonged there.

Patsy wanted it to belong there.

“I think you should go home if you’re going to go home Delia. I’m trying to be okay but honestly I’m not great company right now.” Patsy warned thickly.

“It’s not done.’ Delia whispered with steely certainty, shaking her head. ‘When you’re ready to talk to me then I’ll be waiting. I’m not finished with you Patience Mount. I’m not finished at all.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.” Patsy said honestly, the hurt and bewilderment at being found in this situation with this person palpable.

“Just say we can still be friends?’ Delia coaxed. ‘You can be mad. You can be sarcastic and angry about what’s happened and you don’t have to talk to me straight away but eventually, in a few days, we can try again. Tell me we can be friends Pats?’ Delias fingers were running gently through the short hair at the back of Patsys head. Her breath too warm on Patsys throat.

Patsy shut her eyes tighter, willing herself not to fall into this trap even as she leaned close enough that she could bury her face in Delias hair. It smelled of old shampoo and dried out rain. The smooth strands of it itched at Patsys cheeks and Delias hands didn’t pull away this time. Her face was resting against Patsys neck.

Patsy could feel the warm, damp stickiness of Delias breathing staining her skin.

Patsys arms, oblivious to the battle going on in Patsys head, decided to dump the brain for the moment and wrap themselves around Delias waist because, despite everything, it was all they really wanted to do.

It wasn’t natural for Delia to fit so perfectly into the circle of Patsys arms. It wasn’t fair that Delias fingers chose this moment go for broke and run fully through Patsys hair, a slow touch from crown to nape and back again.

Soothing.

“But I never wanted to be just your friend.” Patsy muttered eventually, her voice muffled through the mass of curls, willing herself to do the right thing and let Delia go.

Let her go. Let her go.

Delias hands paused for half a second, her thumb pushing against the empty space between Patsys jaw and ear as though thinking this through carefully.

“Me neither.” Delia admitted finally as she gently kissed the hollow space between Patsys collar bones in answer. Patsy felt it but she didn’t move to stop it.

Patsy stood with her face hidden and felt the kisses as Delia moved up to her neck. Patsys hands were flat against Delias back. She could feel the fragile inclination of her spine through her top.

“You really should go.” Patsy said for the last time, so quietly that Delia could pretend not to hear it if she wanted to. Delias hands had let go of Patsys hair, they were drifting down to lay flat against Patsys shoulder. One palm stopped just above the place where the scar that Abraham had left her ended. Heart height.

Too much. The sensation was too much and not enough.

Patsy snapped.

Hands tightened without her realising and she pulled her face away from Delias hair to see Delias expression.

“Do you want to leave?” Patsy asked again more firmly, wanting an answer. Demanding one.

Delias hands tightened on Patsys t-shirt, the closed fists balling around thin fabric. Their eyes met in wordless communication as the coat that Delia had somehow managed to hold on to in the bend of her arm for the last few minutes finally lost its struggle with gravity and fell to the floor.

Patsy gave in; out of options. She’d asked hadn’t she? She’d been polite hadn’t she? She’d waited. She’d promised. She’d done everything the right way round for once and none of it had worked so she would just have do this the old fashioned way.

Everyone left after that.

Patsy smiled grimly to herself as she leant forward and stole a kiss from Delia.

Old habits died hard.

The first time they’d done this- The last time they’d done this, Patsy had been half recovered from a beating. Delia hadn’t seen Patsy when she was fighting fit and Patsy would by lying if she said that she hadn’t hoped that they might...

Enough. No more hoping.

Patsy shrugged off the regrets as she reached back down to Delias hips with new authority. Delia was pliable in her arms as Patsy pushed her to the side, pressing her weight with the move until Delia was backed up against the wall and Patsy was holding her there.

If Delia was surprised by this move she didn’t seem to worry for long. Her hands swept underneath the hem of Patsys t-shirt to grip the soft skin of Patsys stomach, trailing upwards instantly to grope at Patsys chest.

Patsys heart was beating too hard, something painful howling in her head as she hoiked Delia off her feet, gratified when Delia wrapped her legs around her waist. The weight of her was wonderful. Too perfect. Too right.

Even now it made her marvel.

Patsy kissed the Welshwoman like she was starving because it was exactly what she’d felt like. She’d been famished for this. All she’d wanted was this.

Something like this anyway.

They grappled blindly; the deal made between them without anything as uncouth as words. What Patsy would take and what Delia would give was expected.

It should be easy to lose herself in this; too many time Patsy had done this before and it had been easy. But this- This was wrong. Patsy felt out of control. Too angry. A dark and ugly part of Patsy wanted to be harsh, wanted to wound somehow, to hurt Delia back in some small way but she couldn’t quite manage the impulse.

Delias skin was too soft, they fit together too well, she was too less a stranger. It still felt like love.

Patsy pressed her fingers to the scar hidden from her at the woman’s hip and thought fleetingly of bruises in the morning. The image made her recoil. Her hands giving way before she could hold too tight, touch too deeply.

Delia didn’t seem to notice; too busy kissing Patsys mouth, her throat. Inviting Patsy in. Her hands dragging at them both until they unbalanced and nearly fell.

Patsy took the weight of the fall but still couldn’t stop. Something too powerful was forcing her to keep going. She felt like she was sixteen again as she hunted without elegance for more skin, the promise of unbuttoned trousers and damp heat. Delia arched towards her, her hips rising up to meet her as Patsys fingers forced their way past a spilling zip to spread Delia apart too quickly as she realised just how easy this was going to be.

Delia opened her mouth when Patsy touched her, the two of them lost when Patsy found her opening and pushed inside.

“How the fuck do you make me this crazy.” Patsy mumbled the words unthinkingly, lost in the feel of Delia pressing around her finger, holding her there as she thrust inside of her blindly.

The angle was awkward; if Patsy had been thinking properly she’d probably have lost the trousers before they got this far. But it was too late for that and somehow between them Patsy managed to wriggle the addition of a thumb into the equation.

Delia had managed to push her hands inside the cups of Patsys bra, her mouth biting Patsys neck, marking the skin in a way that made Patsys heart thump too hard, her hips crushing their way into Delias, nudging her own fingers deeper.

Delias palms were hot against Patsys breasts, ‘Fuck, Pats-“

“Pats?” A new voice, a grounding voice, burst into Patsys head through the closed door and demanded the same response as fireworks to a beaten dog.

Fern.

The voice had the effect of a bucket of ice being poured over Patsy and Delia. The two of them froze; stone statues in daylight as they both craned their heads in horror to stare at the closed door.

“Pats, is everything alright?” Fern said again, sounding concerned now and much closer.

Patsy snatched her hand away just in time to lunge at the door handle and hold it there to prevent it opening when Fern tried to turn it.

“I’m in here sweetheart,’ Patsy shouted hastily in a guilty voice, ‘just- Just give me a second and I’ll be out. I’m just seeing Delia off.”

Delia hadn’t moved, her hands were still wedged inside Patsys bra as Fern seemed to deliberate on the other side of the door.

“How long are you going to be?” Fern asked curiously as Patsy tried to marshall some blood back to her brain.

Thinking would be helpful right now.

“Not long, just give me a few minutes Fern.”

There was an agonising pause and then Fern obviously took her at her word. They both heard her huffing as she walked away.

Patsy waited until she was sure they were safe and then let go of the handle. It rattled in the silence. Mundane in light of their culpability.

The spell broken.

The two women broke apart guiltily. The hand that had been inside of Delia was dragged back and pushed deep into Patsys jeans pocket where it could do no more damage as she staggered away from Delia and caught her breath.

Patsy couldn’t meet Delias eyes as she realised the mess they’d made. Coats had fallen from their hooks without them noticing, a shoe had tumbled from the rack. They had probably made too much noise.

“Pats.” Delia was straightening her top, clumsily securing the button on her trousers.

Patsy felt sick at her own stupidity. Fumbling around a hallway like a pair of horny teenagers. It was embarrassing.

She was supposed to have control.

“I need to go and see if she’s alright.” Patsy said by way of an explanation, her voice distant as she tried to come back to herself. She ran a twitching hand through her hair and realised that the cause was already lost.

They both looked like they should do right now which wasn’t going to help when Fern saw.

“I could... Wait? We could go back in when-“ Delia started to offer hopefully.

Patsy shook her head. “No. Shouldn’t have happened like that. I meant what I said, you should go home.”

Delias face fell. “Can I call you tomorrow?” She asked, still seeking a better answer.

Patsy tried to shrug as she pulled her t-shirt down firmly and reached for the door handle again; needing to escape. “Probably best you don’t, I’ve got to go.”

“Pats-“

“Night Delia.”

Patsy opened the door, refusing to look back and stalked into the kitchen. She closed the door quietly and tried to pretend that she hadn’t seen Delias pale and shocked face staring back at her when she did.

She stood by the closed door, waiting for some response, half expecting Delia to follow her.

The kitchen didn’t look different.

Somehow she felt that it should do. The mugs were still on the table. Patsys scarf, as promised, was draped over the back of the chair, the colours washed out in the soft blue light. Fern was sat waiting for Patsy on the edge of the sofa.

Like nothing had happened.

Except it had.

Patsy took a trembling step towards the chair and ran her fingers over the threads of the scarf. She felt as though she had swallowed a golf ball, couldn’t seem to get past it.

All at once she had a crushing urge to turn around. To go back and apologise. Regret poured in from all sides. She couldn’t just leave it like that, she had to say something, she had to-

The front door slammed shut. The sound of feet thumping up the garden path shouldn’t make so much noise and yet it did. Patsy felt it all like a blow.

Her legs wavered beneath her despite her best efforts and she reached for the chair, the chair legs dragging on the floor as she sank down to sit.

She couldn’t catch her breath. Her heart was beating too fast and a cold sweat was suddenly breaking out along her spine. A desire to throw up, to rock or just stick her head between her knees presented themselves just as Fern cleared her throat noisily.

Patsy had just enough presence of mind to notice and to sit up straight in her chair when she looked up at her daughters pale and pointed face.

“Hey.” Patsy croaked, feeling that short syllables were her friend right now as she felt another wave of sickness rock her.

Fern stared down at her. She was holding a set of folded bed linen in her arms and she was surveying Patsy cautiously, her eyes darting to the door and back again.

“Delias gone?” Fern asked suspiciously as though the facts weren’t obvious.

Patsy nodded, sucking in a breath as she forced herself to smile, the muscles on her face protesting vehemently as she did so.

“Yeah, she has work tomorrow.”

“I heard raised voices.” Fern stated matter of factly, her cheeks pinching in at the bones. She looked like her mother.

“We- Voices?’ Patsy repeated stupidly as she tried to find a smart answer through the fog. ‘Oh, that, we were just talking-“

“I heard a thud too, sounded like you were fighting.” Fern went on darkly.

Patsy felt a burning start up around her ears and creep traitorously across her face. “We weren’t fighting.’ She said shortly, ‘we were just saying goodbye.”

“Didn’t sound like a goodbye.” Fern still looked suspicious.

Patsy propped herself up with her good arm. “So I like to bust out a bit of emotive dancing at times. Don’t look so serious kid, nothing bad happened.” Actually it had but she didn’t need to know.

“If she hurt you,’ Fern glowered, ‘I’ll kill her.”

Patsy took a deep breath, non plussed at the threat and then struck out for a change of subject that didn’t involve investigations into what she’d been doing with Delia.

“What’s with the bedding? Did you have an accident?” Patsy nodded at the linen and watched Ferns shoulders drop automatically.

“I thought I heard shouting.” Fern whispered shamefaced.

Patsys insides clutched with guilt; should have realised sooner that arguments might freak Fern out. Only 50% of her kids couldn’t hear.

She really was doing the rounds tonight. shit mother, shit lover. The list of her faults was just not something that ever ended.

It had all started so well too.

“Well,’ Patsy said with forced brightness, ‘it doesn’t matter now, won’t take us five minutes to make the bed. We can go-“

“I can do it myself!’ Fern snapped instantly, predictably prickly about receiving help, ‘I’m not a baby Pats.”

Patsys temper shivered, too close to the surface but she tempered it. Fern wasn’t her enemy and she’d been afraid. “I know kid, I was just trying to help.”

Fern wasn’t listening, her eyes fixed on Patsys neck as a smirk ghosted unexpectedly across her face.

“What?” Patsy asked gruffly, wiping her hand over her neck angrily.

Fern giggled and placed the bedding more comfortably in her arms. “Your neck, it’s all blotchy!”

Patsy touched her neck again and realised at once what had been spotted, the flesh felt tender. So much for secrecy then.

“I walked into a door.” Patsy said woodenly.

Fern snorted and turned to swagger away. “And you wanted to tell me off about Ollie.” She muttered smugly.

Patsy watched her go, too annoyed to reply as she slumped forward in her seat.

The shadows grew around her as she sat there listening to Ferns feet through the ceiling and then the soft rustle as her daughter went to bed.

After an hour it occurred to her that she should get up, wash up the cups of tea Delia had made, go to bed. She didn’t do any of it, listlessness gripping her as she fell into brooding.

When the clock in the living room said it was close to midnight she managed to rouse herself long enough to walk to the back door and smoke a damp cigarette.

Her thoughts were trapped in a loop. Anger crashed into self pity and then collided with shame and then drifted off as she lost her thread.

She’d lost control back there, she’d forgotten who she was. She didn’t get angry like that anymore. She wasn’t like her father.

Abraham’s smooth voice cut through her brain, his laughing mouth tarnishing her thoughts.

What are the wages of sin bean?

Was she? Was she just like him?

Fuck.

And Delia? What the hell was she supposed to do about Delia now?

Patsy mulled over the scenes of the night again and again, picking apart her faults until they grew meaningless in their multitudes. She’d ruined everything.

Patsy Mount, destroyer of worlds had struck again.

No ones choice.

And what about Trixie? That would need to be addressed. Patsy was incensed at the injustice of the lies and frustrated at not being told. At the stupid machinations of too many others; Barbara, Tom, Trixie, Phyllis. Why hadn’t any of them bothered to include Patsy in the circle of conversation.

For once she’d been good and no one had even noticed.

It was times like this that Patsy sorely missed Chastity. A sister would have been nice about now; Patsy knew she could of course call Helen but some things were not the business of mothers.

What would Chastity have thought about it all.

Chastity’s death had stained her soul somehow and no matter what she did she never could move past it fully. Her greatest failure, the first person she ever let down. Abraham was gone where no curses could touch him but Chastity followed Patsy like a private ghost.

She’d have been a young woman now; twenty seven. Maybe she’d have kids too or maybe she’d have pets but, most importantly, she’d have understood. All of it would have made sense to Chastity; she’d have known the whys of the pain without asking. There was no one else on Earth like that, no other human being who could truly understand all of the damage that had been wrought.

Chastity would know about the rosewood box, the taste of ash, the sins of a father.

And what would Patsy have told Chastity now if she’d been here?

There’s this girl Chas, I think I love her.

And Chastity would have laughed and called her hopeless but listened.

Chas would have liked Delia, would have told Patsy to pull her head out of her arse for once and take the humble route.

Could Patsy even blame Delia for doing what she’d done?

Nah, the Chastity in Patsys head smiled widely and pushed her tongue between the gap in her teeth, that’s Abraham talk. Quitters don’t prosper Pats. We all make mistakes.

The wages of sin.

“Thanks Chas.’ Patsy muttered to herself as she sparked up another cigarette with a lazy wave at the stars. ‘It’s not that easy though.”

Patsy was still standing at the back door when the front door opened, a key scrabbling in the lock loudly until Trixie realised that no one had bothered to put the latch on.

Patsy didn’t move, her fingers tapping away ash tremulously as she listened to Trixie tripping her way into the house.

The clunk of her bag, the swish of her coat, the clink of a glass and and the hiss of a bottle being undone travelled easily through the empty house.

Patsy focused on them, her fist curling as she seethed silently.

Patsy wanted to turn around and seize the damn bottle. Wanted to shake her friend until she stopped moping. Wanted to punch something and leave it as broken as she felt.

“Oh- You’re up?” Trixie sounded surprised, a floor board creaking as she stumbled still.

Patsy puffed the last letter of her fag, her little finger cold in the chilly night air.

“Pats? Where’s Delia?” Trixie was closer now, a fly in a trap and Patsy saw red, pleased with the chance to explode so soon.

Not that she needed a reason right now.

“Did you tell Tom that we’ve been having an affair?” Patsy asked the garden silkily, refusing to look at her friend. Slightly afraid she’d take a swing at Trixies head if she did.

There was a pause, a sip of whiskey passing through parched lips as Trixie tried to figure out what Patsy had said. “What?”

“You heard me.’ Patsy dropped the deadened butt of her fag and closed the door stiffly. ‘Did you?”

“Did I What?” There was the barest hint of slur in Trixies voice and Patsy wanted to kick the door in temper. Really? Already drunk?

“Answer the question.” Patsy hissed, twisting round to finally take in her companion.

Trixie was still in her uniform, powder blue scrubs and depressingly sensible shoes bookended between long legs. She’d had her hair up for work and it was still stuck at the back of her head with yellow strands floating south as she stood holding a glass tumbler.

“Who told you that?” Trixie sounded aghast as she gaped at Patsy.

“So you did tell him that then!” Patsy seethed in grim satisfaction even as her background thoughts whirred off torturously.

Delia might have believe the lie but... Why wouldn’t she?

“Patsy...’ Trixie raised her hands in surrender, a movement which might have been successful if the glass didn’t catch the light and serve to piss Patsy off even more. ‘We were arguing, I just said it in the-“

“Why!’ Patsys open hand slapped the doorframe loudly, cutting through Trixies explanations, ‘why in God’s name did you do that? What the fuck is wrong with you that you thought you had the right-“

“It’s not like I hired a skywriter,’ Trixie interrupted hastily, ‘I told Tom because I wanted him to think I didn’t care what he did.”

“Tom told Barbara.” Patsy fumed from where she stood, her hands crushed into fists that were shaking with so much emotion Patsy didn’t know how it was going to escape. She felt out of control again; she didn’t know whether she was going to cry or throw something. The palpable rage was like a living creature trying to rip its way out of her, cutting through skin and reason.

“Good!’ Trixie snapped. ‘I hope he told her. I wanted it to play on his mind.”

“Barbara-‘ Patsys breath caught in her chest, swaying on the spot, she was so enraged she could barely get the words out, ‘Barbara told Delia.”

The words hung in the air between them, they were said quietly enough but the accusation seemed to echo off the walls. Trixies face drained of colour.

“Oh.” She mouthed meekly, comprehension dawning in her eyes now.

“You’ve ruined everything!” Patsy yelled, the words echoing back on her.

You ruined everything! You ruined everything.

“Pats I didn’t-“

“Delia thinks we’ve been sleeping together.’ Patsy spat the words. Rage spiralling out from her like smoke. ‘She told me tonight. You could have at least warned me if you were going to screw with my life too just because yours is a fucking pile of shit.”

“Pats I’m sorry!’ Trixie looked mortified and just the tiniest bit afraid as she glanced down at Patsys fists. ‘I didn’t realise. I didn’t make the connection between Barbara and Delia, I was just thinking about Tom. I didn’t do it to ruin your plans.” She sounded frightened.

When Patsy took a stumbling step towards her she flinched.

She flinched.

The gesture was so odd, so unlike Trixie that it brought Patsy up short. Made her stop dead where she stood, seeing the situation through her friends eyes.

Coming home after a shit day at work and your flat mate looking about ready to murder you? Being afraid of your friend?

That wasn’t who Patsy was. That wasn’t who Patsy wanted to be no matter what the circumstances were. She wasn’t a bully, she wasn’t like her father. She wasn’t like Abraham.

She always had control.

She could have control now.

Patsy took a few deep, calming breaths, counting to ten in her head, the sound of her gasps rattling the air as she forced herself to relax. Forced the anger down into that familiar rose wood box inside her head.

Walking more carefully now, so that she didn’t frighten Trixie again, Patsy made her way to the sofa and sank down into the cushions. They were cold, the heat from Delia and her having long since evaporated.

And it wouldn’t be warm again like that.

The realisation was a stabbing pain to the heart. She sucked in a gust of air, trying to stifle the hot rising tears, staring down at her hands. They seemed too big to her all of a sudden. Clunky. The missing finger outlandish and gary. She didn’t know what to do with them.

She’d touched Delia and it had been ugly. She’d been ugly.

She didn’t want to cry about this. She wanted to be in control of the emotion. Tame it to nothing and throw it away.

Trixie had deposited her drink warily on the coffee table to put her hand on Patsys thigh. It caused a weight against the skin and Patsy twitched. Still staring at her hands as she tried to force an encouraging smile. It felt wrong on her lips.

A lie.

“I’m sorry,’ Patsy said mutely, lost in a monotone, ‘I shouldn’t have shouted at you. It won’t happen again.” Shouldn’t have happened in the first place, the voice that sounded like Helen chided her.

“Patsy I’m so sorry.” Trixie was worried now as she watched the fight fizzle out of her friend.

“S’alright. These things happen.” Patsy lied; she hated cliches. Who else did this happen to? Who else had to put up with this much crap in one lifetime?

“We were arguing. He said that it was my fault he cheated.’ Trixie was full of excuses; Patsy didn’t care about any of them. ‘He told me things hadn’t been right for months so he’d had to look elsewhere. That’s why I told him that I’d been sleeping with you; I could bare the idea of losing face. Not then. Not to him. I’m sorry sweetie.”

“It’s fine. I’m okay.” Another lie. If Patsy said it enough though maybe it would be true eventually.

“How did things end with you and Delia?’ Trixie asked tentatively, nervous to push in case Patsy started shouting again. ‘Are you going to see her again?”

“She works at Seppies school.’ Patsy rubbed at her eyes wearily. ‘We can’t pretend not to see each other.”

“But tonight? How did things finish tonight?” Trixie was insistent, willing Patsy to give her an answer that didn’t make her feel bad.

Patsy sighed and tried to burrow her neck into the back of the sofa. She wanted to sleep for a year.

“On reflection,’ Patsy said flatly. ‘I think it could have ended better than it did.”

“She dumped you?” Trixie sounded incredulous now, angry on Patsys behalf.

Patsy let out a bitter chuckle that sounded too much like a sob. “No, she wanted to talk it through.”

“Well there you are then,’ Trixie slapped Patsys thigh, relieved as she reached again for her drink and downed it, ‘you can call her in the morning and make it up. It’s still fixable.”

A muscle in Patsys cheek twitched as she imagined taking the empty glass Trixie had just put on the table again and throwing it against the wall. “She slept with someone in Wales.”

Trixie yawned and rubbed her bun of hair idly. “And?” She asked without much interest.

“What? No friendly outrage for that fact?” Patsy cracked open an eye, forcing herself to sound matter of fact, to ignore the fresh welt of pain at the easy dismissal of her predicament.

She had that sensation of bleeding again, secret cuts.

“Well, Patsy,’ Trixie looked embarrassed but unwilling to ignore the elephant in the room. ‘I don’t want you to get upset again but you’re hardly the poster child for fidelity are you?”

“This was different!’ Patsy rose in the chair, stiffening before she could remind herself that she didn’t want to argue with Trixie. ‘She was different! She wasn’t just some random woman okay. She was different for me, she wasn’t a one night stand and she wasn’t just a shag. She was different.”

“Okay, fine, she was different.’ Trixie removed her hand hastily as though worried that Patsy might throw it off if she didn’t. ‘So, if that’s how you feel then call her tomorrow and tell her that then.”

“It’s not that simple.” Patsy closed her eyes again. She might as well be talking to herself.

“Why not?”

“The woman’s staying with her.’ Patsy said it harshly, the hurt too fresh to dampen. ‘Caroline. Her names Caroline apparently. Delia brought her back from Wales.”

“Oh.” Trixie sat back, her shoulder jostling Patsys.

“She said they’re not sleeping together but... who knows. That’s got to mean something hasn’t it?’ Patsy looked over at her friend, needing reassurance that she wasn’t insane. ‘Bringing someone back from home? That’s more than casual.”

“I don’t know.’ Trixie sounded genuinely sorry now. ‘I’m sorry sweetie.”

“Yeah,’ Patsys eyes burned, her throat too thick. ‘Me too.”

“Come on Pats,’ Trixie said bracingly, her face coaxing, ‘this isn’t like you, crying over some woman. Where’s the Patsy who breaks hearts for fun gone? There’s plenty more fish in the sea you know.”

“I know that but...’ Patsy shook her head, unable to articulate the thoughts in her head into something tangible just yet. ‘I don’t think I want another fish. I can’t explain it Trix. I don’t know why it was now or why her... but I really liked her. This whole time I just thought that was it. I thought she was the one.”

“I’ve really messed things up for you haven’t I?” Trixie muttered despondently.

Patsy certainly seemed to be getting her nonchalant shrugging practice tonight. “It’s fine.’ There was that word again. ‘I’ll get over it.” She wouldn’t though.

Not for a long time.

“I’m sorry Pats.”

“You did what you needed to.’ Patsy wanted to talk about something else, she didn’t want to think but she couldn’t stop herself. She scrubbed her face, she could still smell Delia on her hands and it didn’t help. ‘I’ve said worse in arguments and besides, it’s not all on you. I should have called her, checked in more.”

“She could have called you too sweetie.’ Trixie snapped back, trying to create a response from Patsy. A fight. ‘Communication runs both ways. Anyway, if she’s got someone else shacked up why did she come here tonight? That’s a liars trick if ever I saw one.”

“She came because I asked her to.’ Patsy said fairly, disliking Trixies tone. ‘She’s not a liar.”

“She’s slept with someone else.’ Trixie seemed up for turning the heat against an outsider. ‘Trust me, you can do better Patsy. I never liked her in the first place.”

“Please.’ Patsy almost smiled for real at her friends attempt at solidarity. ‘You hardly know her and there’s nothing about her not to like. Anyway, weren’t you the one who warned me off her first time we met? You seemed to like her well enough then.”

“And she can’t have much of a backbone.’ Trixie went on, ignoring Patsy as she warmed to her subject. Laying into the witch hunt with relish. ‘Staying with that Jessie for as long as she did. Strikes me that she must be a total pushover; you’d be bored by next week. You don’t need someone that pathetic, she’s probably done you a favour.”

“She’s not pathetic.’ Patsy felt a twinge of real annoyance now, the comment felt below the belt. Undeserved. ‘She’s braver than me and she’s smart-“

“Pats, listen to yourself,’ Trixie shook her head indulgently. ‘I know you like to be the knight in shining armour but if she’s cheated on you already then she’s a tart. Plain and simple. Some low-“

“Don’t talk about her like that!’ Now Patsy didn’t care if Trixie was scared or not. She was taller than Trixie with the both of them sat down and the irrational anger, the need to shut Trixie up was like an invisible hand on her soul. She squeezed her eyes closed, trying to control herself, making herself appear calm, ‘just don’t talk about Delia like that okay. I can’t- I don’t want to hear it. She’s not a tart, don’t you understand that? She’s not any of that stuff. I get it. She made a mistake, she slept with someone else because she’s been through hell and she thought I was sleeping with you... I’m angry and I’m tired but I’m asking you politely, here and now, please Trix, please don’t talk about Delia like that.

You don’t know her story and you don’t know what she’s been through. I wouldn’t let anyone talk about you like that although believe you me some might say they’ve got a right just-‘ Patsy deflated back against the sofa, exhausted, ‘just leave it alone alright. I don’t want to talk about it.”

She didn’t. She was so sick of talking.

“I’m sorry.” Trixie said again.

“I know,’ Patsy pinched the bridge of her nose, ‘me too.”

“I didn’t know you liked her so much.”

“Why would you?”

“Is she going to get rid of this Caroline?”

Patsys body felt exhausted, a heavy suit all around her. She wished she’d gone to bed. Sleep would be so helpful right now...

“No idea.’ Patsy answered bleakly. ‘I didn’t ask.”

“Pats,’ Trixie was busy looking back at the kitchen, eyeing up the bottle on the side, her interest waning. ‘If you feel that strongly shouldn’t you at least call her to find out?”

“Find out what?”

“Find out if she feels the same way as you.” Trixie rolled her eyes in exasperation as though she thought Patsy was being especially dense.

“I don’t know if I can do that.” Patsy said slowly, the ache in her heart pulsing at the idea.

“So... That’s it? You’re going to just walk away.”

“Why break the habit of a lifetime, right?’ Patsy tapped her knuckles on the arm of the chair. ‘It’s always worked for me so far. I’m still here.”

There didn’t seem to be anything more to say after that. The two of them sitting in silent cogitation, their thoughts unaired as the clock ticked away the time and turned it into history around them.

Patsys eyes began to droop as her mind turned fuzzy at the edges.

When it was close to two in the morning Trixie yawned hugely and got to her feet stretching. “Are you coming to bed?” She asked, eying the bottle in the kitchen longingly.

Ahh, another promise to keep occurred to Patsy.

No time like the present.

“No.”

“Pats,’ Trixies patience appeared to be running thin, ‘you’ve got to sleep, there’s no point being a martyr.”

“I know,’ Patsy sighed, laying her feet on the end of the sofa Trixie had just abandoned, ‘I’m going to go to sleep down here tonight.”

“Any particular reason why?”

“Delia made a good point tonight.’ Patsy looked at the ceiling, her thoughts drifting, ‘you and me, it doesn’t look right Trix.”

“God, Pats, are you breaking up with me?” Trixies mouth twitched, amused at the joke.

Patsy didn’t smile back.

“We can’t keep sleeping in the same bed Trix.’ God, could it sound more domestic if they tried Patsy wondered moodily. ‘I know when you moved in you said you’d use the sofa but you haven’t... So I’ll just stay down here in the meantime. I haven’t really thought about how it looks from the outside; the girls. I don’t want the girls to get confused.”

“The girls aren’t going to be confused Pats.’ Trixie rolled her eyes again. ‘Honestly, you’re being-“

“And that’s the other thing...’ Patsy interrupted calmly. ‘The drinking Trix. It’s got to stop.”

That stopped her. Trixie narrowed her eyes as she glared at Patsy; offended. “And what are you Patsy? My mother.”

“I’m your friend.’ Patsy argued tiredly. ‘I love you, I want to help you, I really do, but the drinkings too much. If it doesn’t stop you’re going to have to find somewhere else to live. I can’t keep covering for you; I don’t want to.”

“I don’t believe this; you get screwed over by some girl and suddenly you want to take it out on me. You’d actually throw me out?” A vein pulsed in Trixies forehead, I’ll advised indignation all over her face.

“Trixie,’ Patsy began wearily, ‘I don’t want to throw you out but it’s not just down to me anymore. The girls have to come into the equation, the drinkings not fair to them, you know what their home lives were like before this.”

“You’re comparing me to a drug addict.” Trixie looked affronted but Patsy saw the flash of recognition too.

Something had hit home hard.

“No.’ Patsy said shortly, ‘I’m saying they lived in a chaotic atmosphere and I won’t allow that to continue in this house. They have a right to feel safe Trix and the drinking bothers them. I have to put them first.”

“I barely drink in front of them.” Trixie hedged testily.

Patsy shot her a bittersweet smile. ‘Ferns not stupid Trixie, she knows a drinker when she sees it and I won’t ignore her when she’s telling me that it’s freaking her out.”

“I’m supposed to be your best friend.” Trixie mumbled sulkily.

“And they’re my kids.’ Patsy said back sharply, not falling for the ploy. ‘Don’t try and make this a contest Trixie.”

“Are you saying you’d pick them over me?” Trixie put her hand on her hip.

“Yes.’ Patsy said simply. ‘Every time. It’s how it has to be Trix, you’d know that if...” Patsy stopped abruptly, realising what she’d insinuated too late. Trixies face had lost its blood as she folded in on herself.

“If I had children.” Trixie finished the phrase coldly.

Patsy closed her eyes, defeated. “Well it’s true, you don’t have any children Trixie.”

“That’s not my fault!” Trixie hissed, ‘And since when did you become a supermum? You really think you can do this forever? You’re more of a wreck than I’ll ever be. Raised by fucking wolves.”

Patsy went still, the blow a low one and took a deep breath. Trixie was hurting and she’d made it worse like always but she couldn’t lose the thread. She wasn’t fighting just for her at the moment.

“I’m doing my best... The point isn’t up for negotiation.” Was all the answer Patsy could give.

Trixie jerked, her legs moving like she was trying to jog on the spot.

“What? That’s all I get? No witty comebacks?” Trixie baited, spoiling for a fight.

Patsy lay her head back on the arm of the chair tiredly. “Not tonight.’ She said flatly, ‘you should get to bed Trixie, it’s late and I’m tired.”

Trixie stayed where she was for a moment, staring at Patsy angrily, willing her to fight back but Patsy ignored her. The dismissal obvious. Too exhausted to keep going.

Patsy didn’t hear Trixie leave, already asleep when she turned on her side.

Tomorrow was still on it’s way after all; that, at least, never changed.